Magazine article The American Conservative

Can We Hurt the Islamic State? Punitive Raids Won't Destroy ISIS-But They Don't Have To

Magazine article The American Conservative

Can We Hurt the Islamic State? Punitive Raids Won't Destroy ISIS-But They Don't Have To

Article excerpt

If a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, Washington is now a high-budget, low-talent production of "Marat/ Sade." After defeats by Fourth Generation, non-state opponents in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we have begun another war with another Fourth Generation entity, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. We are relying on foreign armies we will train, which have collapsed from Vietnam onward. Those armies are to be supported by our supposed ace-in-the-hole--it appears to be a deep hole--air power, which has also failed against irregular forces from Vietnam onward.

Worse, we are moving toward doing what ISIS most wants us to do: namely, sending in ground forces against it. ISIS is already benefiting from our air attacks. In exchange for a few tanks, artillery pieces, and empty buildings--America's air targeting is largely predictable--ISIS's recruiting and fundraising have prospered. It can now wrap itself in the mantle of David confronting Goliath, a powerful advantage at the moral level of war. A ground assault by American troops will kick those benefits up several notches. More, it will solve the number one problem faced by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and all the rest of the Islamic puritan forces: how to get at the Americans. When we come to them, that problem disappears.

The proximate cause of our new war is the murder of two Americans. You read that right: two. It often happens that two people are murdered in a single night on Cleveland's east side. Should Shaker Square be on the lookout for Predator drones? The only war with a lesser cause was the War of Jenkins' Ear between England and Spain in the 18th century.

When President Obama, who had long manfully resisted the establishment's demands for another war--if we forget about Libya--finally yielded, he did so in the worst possible way. His announced "strategy" combined maximalist objectives, defeating and destroying ISIS, with means so inadequate that within hours his plan was the butt of jokes within the military. Regrettably, the maximalist objectives create what the permanent war party most wants, grounds to argue that America's "credibility" is now at stake. So it was also in 17th-century Spain, our closest historical parallel, where an overcommitted country could not prudently pull back because the reputacion of the monarchy was at stake. The inevitable result was complete collapse, military, financial, and political.

Beyond the fact that the American military does not know how to fight and win Fourth Generation wars, the war against ISIS is doomed because the tide of history is against us--the tide of the decline of the state. In most parts of the world, the state is fading because it is no longer able to perform the function for which it arose, maintaining the safety of persons and property. That is true here as well, as the explosive growth of private security in recent decades testifies.

The decline of the state is happening even faster in the Middle East because many of its states were artificial creations to begin with. That is true of Libya, Syria, and Iraq, among others. Such states can function, as Saddam's Iraq did. But they are brittle. Once shattered, no one can put them back together again. …

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